SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. (Sept. 12, 2022) – Last week, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a resolution calling for the decriminalization of psychedelics including psilocybin and ayahuasca. While not legally binding, resolutions can serve as an important first step and build a foundation for further action in the future.
Supervisors Dean Preston (D) and Hillary Ronen (D) sponsored the resolution. It does not enact any actual changes to criminal justice policy in the city, but it urges police to make enforcement of laws against psychedelics “amongst the lowest priority.” It also requests that “City resources not be used for any investigation, detention, arrest, or prosecution arising out of alleged violations of state and federal law regarding the use of Entheogenic Plants listed on the Federally Controlled Substances Schedule 1 list.”
The resolution also calls on city officials to “instruct” its state and federal lobbyists to push for the decriminalization of psychedelics at both the state and federal levels.
“I am proud to work with Decrim Nature to put San Francisco on record in support of the decriminalization of psychedelics and entheogens,” Preston said in a press release. “San Francisco joins a growing list of cities and countries that are taking a fresh look at these plant-based medicines, following science and data, and destigmatizing their use and cultivation. Today’s unanimous vote is an exciting step forward.”
Studies have shown psilocybin and other hallucinogenic compounds found in certain mushrooms and plants are effective in the treatment of depression, PTSD, chronic pain and addiction. For instance, a Johns Hopkins study found that “psilocybin produces substantial and sustained decreases in depression and anxiety in patients with life-threatening cancer.”
Despite the move to decriminalize psilocybin and other and its promising medical uses, the federal government maintains a total ban on the substance.
Resolutions such as the one passed in San Fransico galvanize support for decriminalization and set the stage for legally binding action.
We saw a similar progression in the legalization of marijuana in California. In 1992, four years before the passage of Prop. 215 legalizing cannabis for medical use in the state, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed a very similar ordinance urging the police commission and district attorney to “make lowest priority the arrest or prosecution of those involved in the possession or cultivation of [cannabis] for medicinal purposes” and to “allow a letter from a treating physician to be used as prima facia evidence that marijuana can alleviate the pain and suffering of that patient’s medical condition.” This followed on the heels of the passage of Proposition P by San Francisco voters, calling on the state legislature to legalize the medical use of marijuana.
Non-binding resolutions to drive support for a particular action can be a powerful first step.
During the 2022 legislative session, a bill to legalize possession of several psychedelic drugs, including LSD and “magic mushrooms,” passed the California Senate, but was gutted by an Assembly committee and turned into a study committee.
Under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) passed in 1970, the federal government maintains complete prohibition of psilocybin. Of course, the federal government lacks any constitutional authority to ban or regulate such substances within the borders of a state, despite the opinion of the politically connected lawyers on the Supreme Court. If you doubt this, ask yourself why it took a constitutional amendment to institute federal alcohol prohibition.
As we’ve seen with marijuana and hemp, when states and localities stop enforcing laws banning a substance, the federal government finds it virtually impossible to maintain prohibition. For instance, FBI statistics show that law enforcement makes approximately 99 of 100 marijuana arrests under state, not federal law. By curtailing or ending state prohibition, states sweep part of the basis for 99 percent of marijuana arrests.
Furthermore, figures indicate it would take 40 percent of the DEA’s yearly annual budget just to investigate and raid all of the dispensaries in Los Angeles – a single city in a single state. That doesn’t include the cost of prosecution either. The lesson? The feds lack the resources to enforce marijuana prohibition without state and local assistance, and the same will likely hold true with psilocybin and other psychedelics.